Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio

Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

Michigan State University sign
Michigan State University

A former Michigan State University student argues his rights were violated when he was not allowed to directly question the woman who accused him of sexual assault. The case could affect dozens or more similar cases.

The student’s legal team has asked for class-action status in his case before a federal judge. If granted, that could affect dozens of other cases in which MSU students face similar accusations. That development was first reported by the Detroit Free Press.

broadband internet wires
Alex Tihonov / Adobe Stock

The state is offering $20 million in grants to encourage internet companies to provide high-speed service to rural parts of Michigan. Pam Matelski directs the grant program. She says there are pockets all across the state that still don’t have high-speed service. She says that affects schools, agriculture, businesses, and health care in rural areas.

PFAS foam along the Huron River.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials say they’ve reached an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to speed up action to clean up PFAS contamination at the former Wurtsmith Air Force base in Oscoda.

The plan includes accelerated action to treat contaminated water and to step up investigating spots where firefighting foam may have been used or tested. Firefighting foam is a known source of PFAS chemicals.

State Rep. James Lower

A bipartisan group of lawmakers says state-appointed emergency managers have too much power invested in one person. Recently proposed legislation would replace that system with emergency management boards.

State Representative James Lower (R-Greenville) says the Flint water crisis revealed problems with giving one person so much authority.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court has removed Livingston County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan from the bench. The court found Brennan is liable for misconduct that reflected poorly on the judicial system.

This drama of law and romance has played out for a little more than a year now, since the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a complaint against Brennan. It says the judge presided over a murder case that was investigated by a detective with whom she’d had a relationship. The complaint also says she was improperly involved with her own divorce case.

Adobe Stock

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it’s ever okay under the state Constitution for taxpayer dollars to support private schools.

The case challenges two state budgets adopted by Republicans. They include provisions that allow private and parochial schools to be reimbursed for some expenses, as long as the money is not directly related to educating students. A provision in the Michigan Constitution says taxpayer dollars can’t go to support private schools.

Ankle with tracking monitor on it
stocksolutions / Adobe Stock

A technology upgrade that’s supposed to help consumers threatens to shut down the system for keeping track of felons and sex offenders who’ve been released from prison.

The state's Department of Corrections keeps track of 4,600 offenders using electronic tethers. The tethers are attached to Verizon’s 3G network that’s supposed to go dark at the end of the year to be replaced by a 4G network, according to the department's Chris Gautz.

Michigan's Hall of Justice.
Eridony / flickr

The future of a judge accused of misconduct is now waiting on a decision from the Michigan Supreme Court. The case includes allegations of an improper romance with a police detective, and lying to protect her career.

Gretchen Whitmer
Whitmer for Governor

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has announced that $1.3 million in grants will go to hospitals to help create better systems for treating people with opioid addiction. 
Whitmer says opioid addiction is a large and growing problem. She says one reason is that people end up in emergency rooms after they overdose. But she says they are often released without a followup plan.
She says that means many of the same people make repeat trips to the hospital for emergency care without treating their addiction.

comedy_nose / flickr

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says President Trump’s proposed citizenship question on the upcoming U.S. Census form will discourage participation. She says that would cost Michigan political power in Washington as well as federal money for schools, health care, and roads.

“I think with a lot of the rhetoric that’s happening in this country right now to add this question will create fear and will keep us from getting a complete count here in the state of Michigan,” she said.

woman at laptop holding an iphone
William Iven / Unsplash

Michigan voters could decide whether to include an electronic privacy guarantee in the state constitution. A state lawmaker formally proposed the amendment Wednesday.

sign that says "vote here"
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A state elections board is going to work on new rules to govern petition drives that want to get issues before the Legislature or on a ballot.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers faces a complicated situation. Last year, Republicans in the Legislature adopted a law to make it harder for petition drives to succeed. Earlier this year, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a formal opinion. It strikes down much of what Republicans enacted. Republicans are now challenging that opinion in court.

Apple with books
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked a federal court to accept her arguments supporting a group of Detroit parents who have sued the state. The families want the court to rule that their children have the right to good schools and an adequate education.

The families lost their challenge in a lower court and the case is now before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Republican leadership in the state House and Senate has filed a challenge to a recent opinion by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The law in question makes it more difficult to put a measure on the state’s ballot. The law was enacted during a hectic lame duck session last year.

In May, Nessel issued a formal opinion that said that portions of the law were unconstitutional – in particular, a portion that limits the number of signatures a measure can have from a given geographic area.

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

In a new report, the National Transportation Safety Board blames human error that led to equipment failures for an anchor strike in April 2018 that dented the Line 5 twin pipelines. Attorney General Dana Nessel says the report is evidence the pipelines need to be removed from the Great Lakes.

The NTSB report says the vessel was short staffed during the Easter weekend as mistakes were made that allowed an anchor to drag on the lake bed. It struck Line Five and the pipelines were dented.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she will meet this week with Enbridge Energy executives. Her goal is come up with an agreement to remove the Line 5 gas and oil pipeline from the Great Lakes.

“I am still talking with Enbridge," Whitmer said. "My hope is that we have a date certain that the pipeline comes out of the water, and we’ve got a resolution to this in the very near future.”

striped safety cones on a road
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer used the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island to lobby for her proposal for a 45 cent increase in the fuel tax to pay for road repairs. She challenged Republicans to offer an alternative if they don’t like her plan.

She says the two and a half billion dollar price tag is big because the problem has been ignored for so long.

Mike Shirkey speaking

The leader of the state Senate says he wants to enact changes to Michigan’s term limits amendment.

Gretchen Whitmer signing bill
Zoe Clark / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a law today to roll back the rates paid by drivers for personal injury protection in their auto insurance.

The savings would come by capping medical benefits that are currently unlimited. The governor and the Legislature’s Republican leaders acknowledged the negotiations were difficult. But Whitmer says the experience could set a pattern for other bargains.

Whitmer for Governor

Governor Gretchen Whitmer used a business conference on Mackinac Island to unveil a contest on Wednesday. The goal is to develop the next generation of vehicles that will move people from place to place.

The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce always puts the future of transportation and the auto industry at the center of the discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Whitmer says this was the right place and time to throw down a challenge with development money to back it up.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she’s ready to go to court to force Enbridge to shut down a pipeline, Line 5, that moves oil and gas on a route that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. That’s if the energy company and the state don’t reach a deal by the end of June.

people collecting signatures
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update: Thursday, May 23, 5:25 p.m.

The future of a ballot-signature law passed last year is unclear.  On Wednesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel said that parts of the law that adds requirements to the ballot signature process are unconstitutional. Now Republican lawmakers and others are working on their next steps.


The state Court of Appeals says a commitment ceremony does not equal a marriage in Michigan.

An ex-husband is challenging a lower court ruling. He says his former wife’s commitment ceremony with her partner relieves him of an expensive spousal support obligation.

City of Detroit

The Detroit City Council green-lighted a deal with Fiat Chrysler Tuesday that should bring around 5,000 new jobs to the city, and represents the largest investment in auto manufacturing within Detroit city limits in decades.

Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg)
Michigan House of Representatives

State Representative Larry Inman (R-Traverse City) has been voted out of the House Republican caucus by his fellow GOP legislators.

Inman was charged on May 15 with soliciting a bribe, extortion, and lying to the FBI. He is currently scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Grand Rapids. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An international trade war could reduce how much money Michigan has to spend on roads, schools, and health care. That’s the word from economists who testified on Friday before a state budget panel that included the state treasurer, and state House and Senate budget directors.
The panel’s job is to determine how much revenue is available as the governor and the Legislature put together the state budget. The picture is stable at the moment as the economy hums and employment is high. 

Car accident
PhotoSpirt / Adobe Stock

The state Legislature’s Republican leaders say they will delay sending bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to change Michigan’s auto insurance system.

Republicans were poised to send the bills to Whitmer’s desk despite her vow to veto them, but Republican leaders say they’re still hopeful a deal can be reached that’s acceptable to all sides.

Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg)
Michigan House of Representatives

A federal grand jury indicted state Rep. Larry Inman on charges of attempted extortion, soliciting a bribe and lying to the FBI.

Inman is a Republican from the Traverse City area who is serving his third term in the House after decades as a local official in northern Michigan.

The Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio file photo

Republicans in the state Legislature have set the stage for a showdown with Governor Gretchen Whitmer over bills to ban an abortion procedure.

Majorities in the House and the Senate adopted bills on Tuesday to ban the dilation-and-evacuation procedure. It is typically used in second-trimester abortions.

State Senator Kim LaSata (R-St. Joseph) says she regrets her attempt years ago to terminate a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage.

congressional districts map of Southeast Michigan
Michigan House of Representatives

Michigan’s top elections official says the Legislature should act quickly to draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts.

A federal court struck down Michigan’s district maps as too partisan. The court ruled Michigan’s lines provide an illegal advantage to Republicans in many districts. Republican leaders in the Legislature say they will appeal the ruling.